Last February, we covered the failure of the Texas energy grid during Winter Storm Uri, which plunged millions of Texans into darkness. The state’s grid was caught off-guard by inadequate access to frozen natural gas facilities, record peak demand, and, frankly, a grid that just wasn’t prepared. The result? Not only did the lights go out, but the heat went out too. As a result, millions of Texans suffered through historic cold temperatures, and hundreds died.
Is Texas better prepared for Winter 2021?
Not really. While Texas legislators have passed measures to make the grid more resilient during freezing weather, experts fear that not enough has been done to stave off another Uri-like calamity.
In June, Governor Greg Abbott signed two bills into law to improve reliability in the Lone Star State. The first, Senate Bill 2, changed the governance of ERCOT, the state power grid operator. The second, Senate Bill 3, requires upgrades for power generators and transmission lines to make them more resilient to extreme weather.
“Everything that needed to be done was done to fix the power grid,” said Governor Abbott at the time.
That’s not entirely the case.
For starters, the legislation doesn’t require power providers to comply with upgrades until 2022 at the earliest. That means that if temperatures dip below freezing again this winter, customers may find themselves in the same devastating position they did in February 2021. Secondly, the bills offer far too many loopholes to allow providers to avoid making costly upgrades to their systems.
To add insult to injury, the new laws do nothing to address companies’ financial losses, which will raise charges on most Texans’ power bills for at least the next two decades. They also fail to provide relief for consumers who faced massive unchecked power bills in the wake of the Uri meltdown.
“If we see a recurrence of the storm we saw last year, people should probably be worried,” said Adrian Shelley, the director of the Texas office of Public Citizen, a nonprofit consumer advocacy group.
What’s the main reason the new regulations fall short? First, Texas’s policymakers have failed to address the actual problem: deregulation. As we wrote back in February, Texas’s deregulated energy market is designed to serve power providers, not consumers.
The definition of insanity is doing the same thing repeatedly and expecting different results. The same could be said for doing nothing and hoping it fixes a problem. The facts are clear: Texas’ deregulated energy market is downright dangerous for consumers. But will policymakers ever do anything to keep everyone safe during the next storm? For the sake of the Texas ratepayer, we can only hope they see reason before it’s too late.